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The Boxer Rebellion


The turmoil that would break into the horrors of the first half of the 20th century was already well underway around the world. In China, a nation due to spend most of those fifty years engaged in civil war, the crisis was already here. Neglected by the Qing Dynasty, humiliated by defeat to western nations in 19th century wars, and almost broken by the terms of their peace treaty with Japan, the Middle Kingdom was ready for one of the bloody uprisings that throw the country into chaos and bring about the end of a dynasty. This time, though, the anger was redirected towards the foreign forces and foreign culture seen to be taking over the country. The Yihequan (known as “Boxers” in English) were a secret martial arts society who believed their techniques made them invulnerable to bullets. 100,000 strong, they stormed across Northern China, killing foreigners and Chinese Christians until reaching Beijing, they received the support of the Empress Dowager and set about besieging the Legation Quarter where the foreign embassies were. In a unique show of unity, Japan, Russia, Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary joined together to invade Beijing, lift the siege, and set up reparations so massive that their repercussions are still being felt today.

For a history of the Boxer Rebellion, I would suggest the relevant episode of In Our Time, or this one from the China History Podcast, or this one from Stuff You Missed In History Class. This History Channel documentary is ok, as far as History Channel documentaries go:


Finally, the piece of Boxer Rebellion related material I’ve spent the most time with is Robert Coltman’s memoir ‘Beleaguered in Peking’ – an inside account of the siege of the Legations, an entertaining read and a fascinating insight into the mind of an American doctor caught up in historical events.


Listen: 140 Years of Recorded Sound at The British Library


I was in London yesterday, and had a little time free to visit this exhibition about the history of recorded sound at the British Library. Having something so exactly match up with my interests is a very lucky co-incidence – and if anything my expectations were exceeded, though it is by no means a large exhibition.


This is from an installation about a boy who kept logs and recordings in the earliest days of radio – really looking forward to getting to the 1920s when I’ll be listening in to these.

largest smallest

This is the largest ever commercially produced record – a Pathe 20″ disc weighing over two kilogrammes – and the smallest – a recording of ‘God Save The King’ made for the record player in the Queen’s dolls’ house.


These are tiny playable stamps from Bhutan, which play folk songs, the national anthem, and a short history of Bhutan.

What I can’t share, of course, is all the audio – so you’ll just need to find your way there by May 13th. Details can of course be found on the British Library Website here.

There is quite a lot to see, watch and hear – I spent over an hour there, even though it is a very small exhibition, and left wanting more. What I really want is an entire museum of this standard – it’s such a vast and fascinating topic. Anyone want to pay for that to happen? Maybe we should set up a kickstarter.

Some documentaries about the year 1900


There certainly are quite a lot of these this year.

Elsewhere in 1900


The second modern Olympics takes place in Paris. Events include angling, cannon shooting, life saving, pigeon racing, fire fighting and ballooning.


The Boxer Rebellion in China escalates into a full-blown war between China and a coalition of western forces

(c) National Army Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Boer War continues, with heavy losses on both sides, and the expansion of concentration camps


William McKinley is re-elected President of the USA, with Theodore Roosevelt serving as Vice President


At least 200 are killed in the Scofield Mine Disaster in Utah


Two-thirds of Hull, Quebec, is destroyed in a fire


The Galveston Hurricane kills 6,000 – 12,000 people, making it the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history.


Prohibition campaigner Carrie Nation begins her campaign of bar-smashing



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Is this a new century? Difficult to get agreement on this one, but it’s certainly a new decade, and changes are very much in the air; changes that haven’t quite filtered through entirely to the mix you’re about to hear, but which are about to turn everything upside-down – the beginning of a “music business” or “music industry” in terms which are much more familiar to us than anything seem so far – all due to the kind of duplicitous shenanigans which will also seem typical of the business in the 20th century.

The story of the technology so far was a friendly-ish war of two competing standards – Edison’s wax cylinders (still the dominant form) and Emile Berliner’s flat discs. Born in Hanover in 1851, Berliner emigrated to the USA in 1870 to avoid being drafted for the Franco-Prussian War, and found work for the sometime Edison-affiliated Bell Telephone after inventing an improved telephone transmitter. In the 1880s he developed his disc recording system, which produced playable discs by (probably even earlier than) 1889, when he went into business with Kammer & Reinhardt, a German toy-maker with whom he made 5-inch hard rubber discs, though this venture did not last long.

In the early 1890s, Berliner tried to start his first companies – The American Gramophone Company, which failed before issuing a single machine or disc, and the United States Gramophone Company in 1894, which had a slightly more success selling machines and 7-inch hard rubber discs. These were replaced in 1895 by shellac discs, which remained the standard until the 1930s. Through the next few years, production slowly increased, until on September 29th, 1897, his mastering plant in Washington, D.C., burned down, destroying his record manufacturing equipment and masters of recordings.

This wasn’t the end, though – Berliner managed to resume production within a few months, but in 1898 he was beset by further problems as various companies began to copy his invention. He had already shut down two of these operations when he found that one of his agents, Frank Seaman in New York, was manufacturing identical copies of his Gramophone labelled the ‘Zonophone’. He immediately cut off all supplies to the city, but was hit by a lawsuit for breach of contract from Seaman, and in 1900 an injunction was granted, ceasing all operations for the United States Gramophone Company. All attempts to have this injunction lifted were fruitless, and Berlinner eventually quit the business entirely, transferring his assets to Eldridge Johnson, who then launched the hugely successful Victor Talking Machine Company.
In 1900, the Gramophone’s patent being unenforced, recorded sound is effectively in modern terms “open source” – anyone could open a record company, and many did. In the coming years we will hear recordings from all manner of labels around the world, and when we get to the 1910s the hegemony of the Edison Cylinder and the conservatism it brings with it will be truly cracked open.

There are also another couple of interesting developments taking place in 1900. To open the mix we have a recording of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria made on Valdemar Poulsen’s telegraphone, a device which recorded sound magnetically on a thin piece of steel wire. The sound produced is remarkably different to the cylinder and disc recordings, and despite being neglected for nearly half a century, magnetic recording will become vitally important after the second world war. Another item to note here is the excerpt from a 1900 production of Cyrano de Bergerac, which is the earliest bit of film dialogue I’m able to use. But more about that soon.


Emperor Franz Joseph – Oldest Magnetic Recording On Poulsen 0:00
Edison Concert Band – Champaign Gallop 0:09
Film Soundtrack – Cyrano de Bergerac 2:11
Edison Grand Concert Band – Mr. Thomas Cat 2:36
Arthur W Haddon – Brown Wax Home Recording Of Talking 4:41
Vess L Ossman – A Coon Band Contest 5:03
Sousa’s Band – A Coon Band Contest 7:18
American Quartet – A Night Trip To Buffalo (Excerpt 1) 9:05
Arthur Collins – The Mick Who Threw The Brick 9:26
American Quartet – A Night Trip To Buffalo (Excerpt 2) 10:31
Charles P. Lowe – Brilliant Gallop 11.08
Len Spencer & George Schweinfest – The Arkansaw Traveler (Excerpt 1) 13:15
Will F. Denny – Doing His Duty-Ooty 13:27
Len Spencer & George Schweinfest – The Arkansaw Traveler (Excerpt 2) 15:41
George Schweinfest – Robin Adair 15:54
Len Spencer & George Schweinfest – The Arkansaw Traveler (Excerpt 3) 17:12
Charles D’ Almaine – Polish National Dance 17:28
Aumonier – Le Cor 19:36
Paul Daraux – Les Myrtes Sont Fletries 22:01
Choir with Alessandro Moreschi – Tui Sunt Coeli 23:26
William Jennings Bryan – Imperialism Speech (Excerpt) 25:48
Peter Dawson – The Miner’s Dream Of Home 26:10
Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh In A Chinese Laundry 29:54
Oppakekepei – Kawakami Noburo Isao 31:04
Siam Theater Ensemble (Berlin) – Kham Hom 32:30
Harry Spencer – The Absent-Minded Beggar (Kipling) 34:22
Edison Male Quartet – Vesper Service 35:30
William F. Hooley – A Record For The Children 36:38
Arthur Collins – Mandy Lee 37:18
Frank Kennedy – Schultz At The Paris Exposition 40:51
Peerless Orchestra – Hail To The Spirit Of Liberty 41:26
Wilson Gabo, Cora Gabo And Unidentified Accompanists – Brown Wax Home Recording Of Harmonica Solo Talking 43:40
Vess L Ossman – The Old Folks At Home 45:04
Performer Not Given – Brown Wax Home Recording 47:27

1899 in Art

Kamal-ol-molk - The Doshan Tappeh Street

Kamal-ol-molk – The Doshan Tappeh Street

Almeida Júnior - Saudade (Longing)

Almeida Júnior – Saudade (Longing)

Winslow Homer - The Gulf Stream

Winslow Homer – The Gulf Stream

Claude Monet – Charing Cross Bridge

Claude Monet – Charing Cross Bridge

John F. Peto – Still life with Mug, Pipe and Book

John F. Peto – Still life with Mug, Pipe and Book

Nikolaos Gyzis - Behold the Bridegroom Arriving

Nikolaos Gyzis – Behold the Bridegroom Arriving

Paul Gauguin - Deux Tahitiennes

Paul Gauguin – Deux Tahitiennes

Thomas Eakins - Wrestlers

Thomas Eakins – Wrestlers

Vilhelm Hammershøi - Ida Reading A Letter

Vilhelm Hammershøi – Ida Reading A Letter

William Holman Hunt – The Miracle of the Holy Fire

William Holman Hunt – The Miracle of the Holy Fire

The Battle of the Nile 1899 by William Lionel Wyllie 1851-1931

William Lionel Wyllie – The Battle of the Nile

1899 in Film

The Pillar of Fire Georges Méliès

The Devil in a Convent


The Kiss in the Tunnel

War Footage From 1899 (later compilation)

The Pillar of Fire

King John

The Dreyfus Affair

Upside Down; or, the Human Flies

Street Scene, Mansion House, London

The Mysterious Knight

The Mysterious Portrait